TINY HOUSE IN THE HUNTER

Some mornings I wake up with sawdust in my hair.

There are bent nails in the pockets of all my clothes.

I dream about ceiling quad and Spac Filler and No-More-Gaps.

My husband, Felix, and I just spent eight months building a “Tiny House on Wheels” in the Australian bush.

We live between his home country of Sweden, and mine – Australia, so living arrangements for the last three-and-a-half years, usually involved living with parents and in-laws.

 While the company, support, and home-cooked meals were all lovely, we started to long for something of our own.

Earning half an income between the two of us at the time, a home loan and mortgage weren’t options we were comfortable with, and would have made travel back and forth much less doable.

Enter the Tiny House Movement.

As an active member of the millennial generation, I spend a fair bit of time on the internet.

It was during one of my endless scrolls on blogging platform Tumblr one day that I came across my first tiny house.

On wheels like a caravan, but shaped, built and insulated like a house, I was intrigued by the structure’s beauty and utility.

Tiny houses can be any small home, but are often movable and usually defined as having around 120 square feet or less of livable space.

Most have lofts, plumbing, electricity and composting toilets, and many are self-built.

Felix was impressed by the photos and the concept and it wasn’t long before we were watching endless video tours on Youtube and sketching up floor plans.

It started innocently enough. It was what ifs and hypotheticals and pipe dreams.

But, financially, the numbers added up and, pretty soon, we were shopping for trailers and second-hand windows.

We started building in August 2016 and, eight months later, we were tiny homeowners (or maybe tiny-home owners) and our “mortgage” (a debt to my parents) is under $20,000.

Felix and I had never done anything handier than installing shelves, but the cache of “how-to” videos online and truly supportive family convinced us it was worth giving owner-builder a whirl.

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to build on a beautiful family-owned rural acreage near Gloucester in the Barrington Range.

Felix and I had never done anything handier than installing shelves, but the cache of “how-to” videos online and truly supportive family convinced us it was worth giving owner-builder a whirl.

My brothers and I grew up between there and Newcastle while my parents built a holiday house in the friendly country community.

The site is located adjacent to the Barrington River, which provided an endless supply of drinking and bathing water –  always lovely, but particularly valuable during the building process, before the water tank was installed.

There was no power in the beginning, so we got hold of some smart cordless power tools.

We used a substantial Milwaukee brand kit with 18v batteries and all with brushless motors.

All that mechanical jargon actually began to mean something to us partway through the build.

The drill, screwdriver, and circular saw were completely invaluable, as were the reciprocal saw and multitool. The two batteries held power for an unbelievable length of time considering the heavy duty, daily use they received.

Other indispensable tools included hammers, chisels, handsaws, clamps, sawhorses, nail and roofing punches, spirit levels, roofing squares, caulking guns, measuring tapes, rulers, a reliable extension and stepladder, vice-grips, pliers, shifting spanners, a socket set, tincutters, pincers, stringlines, bevels, a planer and a belt-sander . . . the list goes on and on.

Before we began this enormous project, I barely knew what half of those things were, let alone how to use them.

Our knowledge and experience of tools and building increased at a tearing pace.

It was the single biggest learning curve of our lives, and one we’re extremely proud of, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

“I said 1500mm, not 1300mm!”

“Oh my god, the stairs can’t fit over the fridge.”

“None of our studs line up where they’re supposed to.”

“Our water tank leaks.”

“The shower doesn’t drain.”

“The powerpoint is in the way of the bathroom wall.”

“Rats have made a nest in our fridge.”

One frustrating Tuesday was spent waiting at the house for eight hours for a plumber who never showed up, without reception to ring and ask what was going on.

A drive into reception later revealed the truth.

“Ah. Yeah. I didn’t show up,” he said, helpfully.

“Sorry about that. I’ll come next week.”

The following week was better, with only a four-hour fruitless wait.

Trouble with tradies showing up on time, however cliched, was one of the most frustrating parts of the build, but one shared by owner-builders the world over.

We became adept at finding creative solutions to bizarre problems and honed our skills in arguing with tradies who liked to insist things could not or should not be done.

Before the solar was installed, a typical day saw us brewing a cuppa on the camping stove, washing ourselves in the river, and getting to work on whatever seemingly impossible task we happened to be up to.

First, it was framing, which was both extremely logical and also somehow almost impossible to get right the first time.

The thing with a Tiny House is that it’s . . . small. By the time we got really good at any given task, it was time to move onto the next.

Next we built the loft platform, installed the Colorbond roof, plywood bracing and sheathing, Earthwool insulation, interior ply lining, a bathroom wall, second-hand hardwood weatherboards, and a host of other trying jobs.

We had only minor setbacks, and encouraging success.

Before too long, we had built most of the house.

A tabletop mounted on folding brackets and folding dining chairs provide a dining area that can be neatly stored flat to the wall, allowing more room for a lounge, which we picked up free from Gumtree, and which was reupholstered by my talented mother.

240 volt solar electricity, plumbing connected to a rainwater tank, a bit of paint, floating floorboards and a second hand kitchen made the place really start to feel like a home.

Of course there are things we would do differently next time, but on the whole we’re beyond happy with how it turned out.

We also learned a lot about ourselves, our relationship, our personal limits, and living simply.

Tiny house living isn’t for everyone, and we were lucky that Felix worked from a distance so that we were able to dedicate the best part of a year to building our home.

Tiny houses are certainly not unanimously beloved, with jokes about passing gas, spousal infighting, and washing your hands in the the toilet, but the reality of “living tiny” fit our lifestyle perfectly.

There are a million and one reasons for choosing to “go tiny”, from a desire to live mortgage-free, a love of minimalism and the ability to tow your home around the country, to concern for the environment, off-grid goals, hesitance to apply for a development application, or just the fun of building something slightly less complex and expensive than a fully-fledged house.

Our reasons were a mixture of many of those and a few others stemming from a life between two countries.

Most of the information about Tiny Houses available on the internet is American, and it can be hard to find out about local businesses and Australian building specifications and the law surrounding these structures.

To combat this, I banded together with four other Australian women to create a Facebook group for Australian Tiny House enthusiasts, where people can ask questions, show off their builds, give advice and advertise their Tiny House services.

With almost 4000 members joining since the group’s creation this year, the demand for more information is certainly there.

Felix and I are living in Sweden for the foreseeable future and facing the sad reality that we’re just not there to use our little house.

Sad as it is, the most sensible move for us right now is to sell it to someone who can love it and live in it and give it the attention it deserves.

 

Happy building, tiny lovers!.

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Title image credit: Designer Eco Tiny Homes

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LESLIE’S FIRST TINY

Indulge me for a moment and imagine this: deer grazing, wild geese flying above, dramatic wild American countryside and a meteor shower uninhibited by light pollution overhead. Got it? Now throw in a charming, rustic tiny home and you start to get an idea of this little adventure.

This experience was by far one of my favourites while visiting tiny houses in Oregon and, though it may sound dramatic, it moved me. In fact, I felt like a child in a candy shop. I can’t find the words to describe the experience and do it justice, and the fact that it all happened by chance just blows me away.

A few months back, when prepping for the trip, my mate and I decided we were keen to get out of our comfort zones and get to know some of the locals. We signed up and registered for the Couchsurfing network and had a look around for a verified host.  I came across Pab’s profile (not his real name. I don’t want him to be slammed with Couchsurfing requests).

His eyes were kind, he had a warm and inviting smile and his profile was written in such a way that I instantly wanted to meet him in person.  I sent him a request asking if he would have the time and space for a short stay for us in Eugene.  Part of the Couchsurfing process is to let people know a little about yourself and why you are traveling, so I mentioned our tiny tour.

To my surprise, he not only accepted our request and offered us a place to stay, but also offered to get in contact with a friend of his, Leslie, who had two tiny homes up north. Of course, the response was an enthusiastic yes, please! After a few emails and a Skype chat, Leslie, despite traveling at the time, offered us the use of her very first tiny.

After a 4 am start from Coss Bay, we got to Bend, returned the hire car and switched it for a BEAST of a camper van (later nicknamed affectionately Beastie) and headed out in search of Leslie’s tiny home.  On our approach to the property, I’m sure I annoyed Cam with far too many repetitive statements like “Wow!”, “This is unbelievable!” and   “Quick, check that out!”, all in the middle of broken sentences when no words could come out. The drive into this property alone was breathtaking.

When we arrived at Leslie’s tiny, I was out of the van exploring before Cam had even parked. The placement of this tiny was even more stunning than the drive in. And to be greeted by a doe and her fawn calmly eating their dinner seemed so fitting. Their curiosity was endearing (sorry, not sorry), but I don’t think they were half as interested in us as I was by this beautiful tiny house. 

The home looked inviting and I couldn’t wait to get inside for a look. Leslie did warn me that the tiny was “rough”, being her first attempt, but I just thought it was rustic, simple and appropriate for the location it was in. To me, something too polished just wouldn’t have fit with the tone of this wild place.

The interior was painted in a way that brought the colours from of the surrounding cliffs inside, and the exterior colour choice complimented the surrounding plant life. The congruency of this tiny had an effect that I don’t feel that could’ve been achieved with a design that was too crisp, modern or neat and it made the space look much larger than it was. This got me thinking about designing with the end location in mind. Sure, I had thought plenty about a tiny home’s purpose, the environmental footprint, functionality, and style before, but Leslie’s property had me thinking more about how a tiny home can complement its environment.

The layout of Leslie’s tiny was simple but functional. The living area had a lounge that you could sleep on that could easily be converted to a larger bed. The kitchen was a basic setup, with two hotplates, a small grill, and a sink. In the centre of the house, Leslie had created a small music room and office space, which tripled as a closest and storage. It worked for the spaced much better than I’d expected.

This tiny was a dry tiny, meaning there was no bathroom, but it didn’t really need one. For a few dollars, all the bathroom facilities you could need were approximate 200m away on the nature reserve. The bathrooms were clean and well maintained, so it wasn’t an issue. In general, the facilities for the public in Oregon are far better than any I’ve seen in Australia, so if you were traveling in a dry tiny, with some planning, you could get by just fine.

The walk from Leslie’s place to the bathrooms was really a sight to see. The light and colours of the landscape seemed to change colours along the way. I may not be as big a fan of this setup come winter time, but I’m pretty sure I could get myself to adjust if it meant living in a place like this.

Leslie’s tiny is completely off-grid and powered by solar. It is built on a trailer with a deck built on the front, so more of a temporarily fixed dwelling, rather than a mobile tiny.  It had doors on three sides, with double doors opening on the front deck, and one door on the back end. Each of the doors had steps for easy access. I liked that this tiny was light filled during the day, so there was no need to turn on any lights.

Having had many years of experience building trailers, Cam was my go-to for trailer info while we toured Oregon. His experience was invaluable in spotting the differences between US trailers and what would pass as legal here in Australia.

Leslie’s tiny measured 6.3m in length and was just shy of 3m wide, so it was larger than what could be towed by a standard vehicle here in Australia. Cam informed me that in addition to the base design of the trailer, this one had 8-meter lengths of steel that had been bent and welded from the tow hitch through the chassis to add strength, but it would have also added a substantial amount of weight.

The trailer had a truck hitch, but the trucks in the US are massive compared to ours. If this tiny was built here, it would require extra services to move. Although possible to be towed by a larger vehicle, the design of this tiny would not be roadworthy here in Australia without an extra permit.

The external features of the tiny home, the size, and the weight, although beautiful and well made, wouldn’t wash with Australian road laws at all. The only way I could see this tiny being legally moved in Australia would be to load the whole thing onto the back of a truck to be transported, and that would most likely be a substantial expense. Certainly, something worth keeping in mind if you plan to move your tiny home often.

After a day of sightseeing, meeting deer for the first time, a fright with a snakeskin (Cam is a brat!), and a wonderful tiny home, I crawled into bed and watched a meteor shower, blissed out, exhausted and content.  What a day! One I won’t forget anytime soon.

Big shout out to Leslie for sharing her tiny home with us, especially given that we didn’t meet her in person until the day after visiting her home. So kind! That day was a standout in our Oregon adventure, and it wouldn’t have been possible without her generosity. Thank you, Leslie! Cam and I greatly appreciate having had the chance to experience, not only your home, but your hospitality. I hope our paths cross again soon.

Happy building, tiny lovers!.

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